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Ciara Layne-Trujillo

Broker enjoys the unpredictability of commercial real estate

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Ciara Layne-Trujillo.

Ciara Layne-Trujillo has an unusual background for a land broker. The vice president of Colliers International got her start in real estate working at the other end -- as a project manager and land acquisition specialist for homebuilders.

The San Diego native started working for homebuilders at age 19. Her first job was with Ryland Homes. The years working for Ryland, D.R. Horton/Western Pacific and Taylor Woodrow Homes (now Taylor Morrison) gave Layne-Trujillo experience in acquiring entitlements and building permit approvals, underwriting, preparing market research, site planning, conducting due diligence and negotiating with sellers.

“That experience gives her a unique skill set not typically found in the land-brokerage world,” said Senior Vice President David Santistevan, one of Layne-Trujillo’s partners.

“She knows every aspect of the homebuilding business, including land entitlements, marketing, finance, engineering and construction,” said Gunder Creager, also a senior vice president and Layne-Trujillo’s partner at Colliers.

Layne-Trujillo switched to the brokerage side in 2007, after the housing market began to collapse in 2006. Now she specializes in residential land, handling properties in San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, as well as Coachella Valley.

She serves mostly sellers, advising them on the value of their land, underwriting and maneuvering through the process of selling land to homebuilders.

She has been a Top Ten Performer at Colliers for the past two years.

In the first six months of last year, Layne-Trujillo said, she saw a rapid increase in the homebuilder market because of low interest rates, a scant supply of lots and good absorption. There was a land-buying “frenzy,” she said, and prices started increasing. The team closed escrow on 41 deals worth $166 million in 2013. They closed 42 deals with a total value of $212 million in 2012.

One of Layne-Trujillo’s biggest deals of 2013 was the sale of 41 home sites in the Rancho Santa Fe master-planned community of Cielo, with a total consideration of $10.25 million. The Colliers team conducted a sealed bid on the half-acre lots on the ridgeline of Cielo.

The bid generated 10 qualified offers from major homebuilders, and California West Communities was selected. Land-development issues, third-party agreements, local and state requirements, and stringent architectural design guidelines gave the deal added complexity.

The partners then completed the sale of 29 estate lots in Montagna, a development within Cielo, for $10.24 million to Taylor Morrison Homes of California LLC. The Colliers team has done a lot of work in Cielo because the seller, Rancho Cielo Estates Ltd., had many lots that sat dormant for years during the recession, Layne-Trujillo said.

Also last year, Layne-Trujillo and her partners represented the seller and the buyer in the sale of an 8.55-acre development site on East Vista Way in Vista for $7.65 million. The tentative map for the site calls for 73 lots, with home sizes ranging from 1,750 to 2,000 square feet each. Shea Homes LP purchased the property from Hallmark Communities Inc.

“It was another one that was indicative of the market, and kind of a benchmark,” Layne-Trujillo said. “That was a record price for lots of that size in Vista. I think Shea’s very happy and they’re going to have great success on that project.”

But in August 2013, sales halted and while prices didn’t necessarily decline, buyers were not as aggressive, Layne-Trujillo said. The market stalled through the rest of the year.

“It was a little bit of too much all at once. Then the homebuyers stepped back and didn’t want to pay those increased prices, and then everybody kind of stepped back,” Layne-Trujillo said.

“Deals were still happening, but we weren’t seeing any more of a lift,” she added.

During the first quarter of 2014, Layne-Trujillo said homebuilders seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach.

The year so far has been marked by steadiness and caution, though there are still buyers out there, she added.

Aside from her experience working with public homebuilders, Layne-Trujillo is also unique in the industry because she’s the only woman in San Diego County specializing in land, according to Creager and Santistevan.

“Land brokerage is a small niche market,” Creager said. “It’s a male-dominated business. Over the last seven years, Ciara has earned the respect of every major homebuilder and land developer who operates in the county. Her clients trust her to assist them in negotiating the best possible terms for their transaction.”

Layne-Trujillo, a mother of two young children, said she “absolutely” believes that women in business can have it all. She said it’s about balance. She works hard, but she doesn’t work weekends -- and doesn’t plan to until her children are grown. Instead, she uses weekends to focus on her family.

Having a husband that supports her career helps, too, as well as the flexibility that comes with being a broker.

“Being a broker, you have a lot of flexibility, which is why I love my job so much. It’s a lot of flexibility that you’re not afforded in other positions,” she said. “You also make your own career, so if you don’t come to work and you don’t work hard, you don’t make money.”

Layne-Trujillo also enjoys the particular challenges of each transaction.

“Every deal is so different -- the land itself is different. The sellers and buyers are all different characters. All of those dynamics make each deal exciting,” she said. “I never wake up knowing what I’m going to see happen throughout the day. There’s always a new curveball thrown at me, which makes it fun.”

-Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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